Tip: Responding is Better Than Reacting!

June 16, 2010

By Robert A. Rohm Ph.D.
Personality Insights, Inc.

One day recently, I was driving in Atlanta traffic when suddenly it came to a stop.  Everywhere I looked, traffic was at a stand-still.  It just so happened that I was sitting on an overpass above the interstate, so I had a birds-eye view of what was happening.  I noticed that one side of Interstate 285 was being closed down.  From where I sat, I could see that it was because of a funeral procession for a police officer.  The first part of the procession included several hundred motorcycle policemen.  They were followed by a long line of police cars.  After that were several fire trucks, ambulances and other medical vehicles.  Finally, five helicopters flew overhead.  With such a large procession, it completely shut down Interstate 285 for a long time.  It was one of the most powerful things I had ever seen!
The last time I remember actually seeing that much authority and power in one place, was several years ago when I was in traffic and the Vice President of the United States came to town.  It really was amazing to watch the respect that was shown to the fallen police officer.  He had been killed in the line of duty.  Everyone who was able to observe what was taking place was very respectful.  People stopped, got out of their cars, took off their hats, stood at attention, and paid their respects.  It was a very moving moment.

Again, because I was stopped on an overpass, I had a front-row seat to everything that was taking place around me, and I noticed that something else was happening.  From my vantage point, I noticed that there were some drivers who were full of rage and anger because someone slowed down their progress.  They were unaware of the reason for the delay, so they were angry.  Someone actually had the audacity to get their spot on a piece of the pavement right in the middle of a funeral!  I thought to myself, “If they only knew what was taking place, they would not react that way.”  Had they known that the traffic jam was because of a funeral for a fallen police office, they would have certainly changed their attitude.  And, that is when it dawned on me that they were not responding to the situation, they were reacting to it.

What was taking place in their minds boiled down to the fact that they did not know that two things were happening simultaneously.  One was a misunderstanding of a demonstration of respect for a police officer, and the other was ignorance over the fact that no one was intentionally trying to inconvenience them!  If you mix those two items together in the same cup, I can assure you that reacting will overpower responding every time.

I also considered the strong possibility that had I not been able to see what was going on, it is very likely that I would have been one of the people reacting as well.  After all, I am a very busy and important person, and I don’t want anyone to ever get in my way or slow me down!  What a joke!

Since I travel so much and spend so much time in airports, I see the same thing happen there.  It amazes me how upset people get at the ticket agents when there is the slightest glitch in the flight schedule.  People react as though the ticket agent personally slowed down the progress of the planes in order to inconvenience their travel plans!

I have discovered that flight delays actually offer great opportunity to get some extra paperwork done and make a few phone calls.  Rather than it being a time to react like a child, it is much better to respond like a mature adult.  It pays much better dividends, not only in my work load, but also in my emotional health as well.  After all, I have found there is often very little I can do to change the flight circumstances in which I usually find myself.

The truth is, in almost any given situation, if you take a deep breath and look around, you will be able to respond more appropriately.  There is no point to go “ballistic” every time something does not go right in your life.  Reacting only serves to raise your blood pressure and hurt your health.

I am going to give you an assignment with this particular Tip.  The next time something happens that does not go your way and really “ticks you off,” ask yourself if JUST THIS ONE TIME it would be better to respond in a positive manner, rather than react in a negative manner.  Try it on for size and see how it fits.  You might be surprised at what you discover.  I like it a lot and I trust that you will have the same experience!

Robert A. Rohm Ph.D.
Personality Insights, Inc.

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